Category Archives: tips

Tropes: Everything is Done Did

Take it on down to Troperville.

No really. Take it down.

Oh man, don’t do the Tropes! Except, do the tropes, because not doing them is such a trope. And make sure you don’t do any subverting of tropes, because that’s getting old and I’m so tired and bored that I’m yawning already just thinking about it. But dang. Tropes! What the heck are they? Don’t write them, but do. Keep them in mind so you can understand the reasons they were used! Write them in a new way! Go to TVTropes and die from starvation and dehydration as you click the next rabbit-hole link.

But yeah. Tropes are a thing. Like, they are a noun that means something. The ol’ online dictionary describes them as literary or rhetorical devices, and yeah, that’s what they are. But I guess they mean more now, or at least they have connotations surrounding them with the gravitas of dark and stormy nights.

And really, that makes sense because culture is ever evolving. And in our global society of sharing everything its easier to transmit ideas in condensed form. Its like powdered milk in a box that needs a little added water. Or Ikea furniture where you see the display model and then you go find the boxes that make the thing you want. Some of those parts are interchangeable and can be used for multiple final forms. It’s an adult form of Lego except there’s a lot more screwing involved.

The greatest part of assemble-it-yourself furniture is that you could make it however you want. Do you want to paint all the stuff before you put it together? Sure, go ahead! Maybe you don’t like that headboard that the assembly guide suggested. Get another one instead and somehow make it work. Customize and reshape, reimagine and carefully build. The end product becomes something special and you’ve also got something to sit on. Yet, you don’t have to do any of that if you don’t want. Maybe you really do just need a decent chair. Get the parts, align the holes, and tighten the nuts and bolts. That’s perfectly fine. It’s functional. It’s nothing pretty or unique, but it works.

Weirdly enough, there’s an odd shifting perspective on what’s cool to customize. Cars are well-known art projects, and custom woodworking is pretty nicely received. Yet, some hobbies are seen as somewhat useless or maybe only for the highly trained. Like, model rocketry is fun. Plenty of people try it once or twice. They go to a store and buy a box and put together some kind of kit. Then sometimes people feel a hook sink deep into their skin. Then the kit isn’t enough. There are modifications that must be made.

At some point any hobby can become a sometimes negatively-associated word: obsession. Except, often enough, for those that are highly accepted like sports or cars or money. Isn’t that strange? Why is it so easy to point and laugh at someone’s drive? Why do we get to pick and choose what gives joy to someone’s life? Shouldn’t we just let people find their niche? Well, except murder and sexual assault and other types of violence. Those are bad and I don’t care if it gives someone a surge of excitement.

Seriously though to find a niche is a meaning of life itself. We all want to find the place we specifically fit. No general purpose user cares what computer they use. But, the gamers and the coders and the developers want a special machine at their fingertips. And to them there’s a purpose to that selection. There’s a reason for the choices they make. A hammer is a hammer if you just need something heavy to swing. But delicate taps to shape metal need a ball pein’s specific hit.

Speaking of smashing and hitting. Now’a’days tropes have started colliding and combining with memes. Ideas are fun to exploit and explore. It’s a pleasure to express that ideal version of a repeated dream. To me that raises the question of whether or not that will dull the senses. Will people get so used to blunt concentrated thought that subtlety will be a novelty?

Nah. We’re too adaptable. And instead of adaptable it’d probably be okay to say forgetful. The things we find popular today and tomorrow will be the next generations cool new thing. That’s the way of history. Cyclical thinking is… well. It keeps coming around.

So, certainly, everything’s been done before, but that’s probably just fine. Because, really, the creation of something new shouldn’t be the goal. The creation of something that speaks to you or to a reader is more important. Remember that book you read as a child? Or that movie or cartoon? Whatever it was, at whatever the age, it affected you deeply. It changed your life.

Someone out there hates your favorite thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a show, a story, a comic book, or a cake. Your tastes are not the same. The stuff you think is dumb or pointless? Someone else loves that too.

I guess, then? Do the tropes. Do whatever you want. But do it well.

-J.A.

Writer Tools: Accents in the Written Form

Accents: How and Where and Why?

Also: What’d they just say?

He growled, “Whar be th’ rules ‘n regulatin’ bawtey ‘at dah-sighds ‘oo wrahts like wut?”

“I’m, sorry. Eh, excuse me even, but what did you just say? You see, your accent is very thick.”

His voice rumbled, “Where be the rules and regulating body that decides who writes like what?” The words tumbled out and melted together, every sound soft and smooth like softened butter. He had an accent like a pirate mixed with a bucket of gravel.

“Oh yes! I see, er, hear what you mean now. Much better.”

So, when writing dialogue there seem to be a couple of schools of thought. There are those that want the words written visually as they sound, and there are those that would rather have things written for clarity. Both schools of thought seem eager to yell at the other that there’s is the One True Way.

Preferences aside, there can be reasons to partake in both of the practices. If you’re writing for a wider readership then it’s best to leave out the weird spellings. The stranger you write a word, the more effort it will take to read. Reading is a process of identifying words as symbols, not individual letters. Mixing up the order of a word will interrupt that natural process. However, sometimes you’re writing for a specific audience or have a very particular speech mannerism that is key to the story or character. That would be the primary case for adding complexity.

Overall you should consider the message you’re trying to convey. Is it really important to emphasize that character’s vocal patterns? If not, it’s probably best to keep away from non-standard spelling. One possible mix I’ve seen is the following:

“Hello my beauty, what ails you?” His words were a high-pitched lilt touched with a lisp. The words came out sounding much more like, “‘Ello mah byooteh, hut aisleth ya’?”

Much like a physical description, an occasional description of the vocal patterns may be enough to set the character. Providing an example of how you imagine the words to sound may help as well.

That said, a larger consensus seems to be that general audiences would prefer clear, well-written sentences over a phonetically spelled verbal mannerism. Write for yourself first, but keep your readers in mind. Understanding your audience preferences is a key part to any decision for creative work.

-J.A.

Writer Tools: Publishing Platforms

Platforms

Note: Updated 20171025 to reflect JukePop’s closing

A platform can mean two things. Either it’s the big social stage you build to advertise your wares or its the more specific architecture built by someone else where you place your content. Everyone needs the social platform, that’s your interconnected network of people that will listen to you or at least nod and smile. Even if you go a traditional publishing route having that platform will help sell books.

As writers, authors, and creative individuals seek to share their work, they find themselves but a drop in a deluge of content. The internet is full of Stuff that isn’t sorted or arranged in any logical fashion. Sorting through the madness is not a feat any normal person could take on and is hardly possible for even great big companies. So far there isn’t an algorithm that can detect the special je ne sais quoi that makes a hit.

What has arisen in the place of such an algorithm are websites and listing services that allow you, the author, to place your work up in specific categories and sorted forms. Here are a couple of those sites with my take on their strengths and weaknesses:

Publishing Sites

– Amazon: They sell physical books and the digital, and allow an author to upload their work straight onto their site through the KDP platform. This is the direct route and your book will almost be instantly available through an Amazon Search. They do have a minimum price requirement and also provide a system called KDP Select that allows readers to browse your book for free if a Prime member. Keep note that KDP Select requires you to make your book exclusively available through Amazon. Getting multiple reviews is your best bet for getting noticed on Amazon, so asking friends and family can help. Amazon briefly dipped their feet into a serial format of publishing, but that program seems to have been scrapped.

– BookRix: The first of several content distributors in this list, BookRix is a place where you can upload your book in a .DOC / .DOCX / .RTF / .EPUB format and then the site will distribute it to other places. Once uploaded your document text may need some additional editing through their chapter / copy editor. Which sites you can distribute to will depend on the formatting of your book, the quality of your cover, and other small details that can be modified without too much effort. BookRix will attempt to push your book to BookRix, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, and other smaller content distributors. You’ll get 70% of the proceeds for any book sales you make. One important note is that BookRix will give you an ISBN for free, but they become the publisher of that book. This differs from other sites that either don’t give you an ISBN or give one and don’t become the publisher.

– Channillo: Concentrating solely on digital serial publishing, Channillo is unique in that it is a closed subscription model that requires users to pay to read. Writers must request to publish their works onto the site, and then they must update in a regular fashion to maintain their listing. Writers cannot read other writer content without subscribing themselves, so the community can feel a little closed as a result. However, authors get an incredible 80% of the subscription profits to those that follow their serials. Payouts don’t occur until you reach a payment threshold of $50.00, and authors can choose to donate their proceeds to a charity. This is still a relatively new site, and it has made steady progress since it’s initial debut in 2016.

– CreateSpace: Much the same as BookRix, except that CreateSpace is largely Amazon specific and will help you create a physical book along with eBook distribution. As an opt in, you can additionally provide your book to be displayed in libraries and academic institutions. Be prepared to submit everything in the .PDF format, including your cover image. They will also provide you with an ISBN, becoming the publisher. There is also a minimum price required to distribute through their system.

– Draft2Digital: Another large-scale distributor, Draft2Digital includes CreateSpace as one of the platforms you can select. Otherwise be prepared to format your book with proper headings and titles between chapters to allow it’s auto-generation to work. This generally requires that you use a document editor’s Heading auto-formatting to ensure appropriate breaks are made. D2D also publishes to ScribD, Tolino, and Page Foundry and will auto-assign an ISBN.

– FictionPress: Online only, and a well-established site for online fiction, Fiction Press was based around a community of fan fiction but it has long since expanded to include original works as well. The interface is very basic, but it’s functional and secure. The community is large, but somehow it seems far more close-knit than other large sites like WattPad. Some plusses of this particular site is that it provides some bulk upload capabilities for existing stories, but learning the process can take some trial and error for new users. As a plus to writers, FictionPress also includes the ability to ask around for BetaReaders and for that reason can foster a strong community of authorial improvement.

– JukePop: JukePop headed to a planned closing by November 15th, 2017. It concentrated solely on digital publishing through a serial format online or through an App. Authors could began publishing as soon as first chapters were ready and then started interacting with potential readers on a continual basis. Some authors used a weekly update schedule while others posted their work as soon as they completed a new chapter. JukePop provided publishing help and bonuses for those authors that maintained a place in their Top 30 listings that could help with costs and distribution. Additionally, the site had systems in place to allow readers to donate and authors to track statistics per chapter. JukePop was a good place to start social networking with authors and readers on top of providing near-instant feedback on a story. A key point here was that JukePop provided vetting for the stories to prevent just anything from getting through which provided decent quality control.

– Lulu: Also a large-scale distributor, Lulu allows you to upload your book in .DOC / .DOCX / .EPUB formatting and requires similar formatting to D2D with headings delineating chapters. After stepping through their creation process it will require that you choose whether to publish to Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Nook, Kindle, and whatever random publishing platforms it uses at that moment (not all are listed.) Included in its process is a basic cover editor. Also providing an ISBN, Lulu seems to specialize in connecting Authors with outside help for those that want help marketing, making covers, and other requirements to make the publishing process less self-intensive.

– Personal Website: Everyone seems to say a personal website is great for an author. It allows people to get examples of your work, allows them to see what kind of person you are, and may be a great place to host a blog or other information. This is all true and if you have the capability and time a website can be another nice extension of self. However, designing and maintaining such a website can be time intensive and there’s no guarantee that it will be seen. Most of the other platforms here have automatic audiences built in which almost negates the need for a personal site. That said, your own web space can fit your every requirement for customization if there’s a willingness. Plus, these days sites like WordPress or Tumblr can provide basic customization and free hosting for an easy method of putting your work online.

– Serial Teller: This is a site that is on the smaller scale, but that’s because it is run by a private individual with heavy-vetting. Potential authors can apply to have their stories hosted on the site, and then they can begin posting through a blog-like interface. The audience is potentially smaller for such a site, but authors can benefit from a more-focused audience with a similar feel to the serials already being hosted.

– SmashWords: There’s not much to say about SmashWords that hasn’t already been said about the other multiple-distribution points. SmashWords is extremely easy to use and has it’s own digital content sorting but is probably the ugliest site in terms of formatting and content exploration. Upload your document in one of its formats, upload the cover, and then you are free to distribute to all of the following sites: Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Amazon, Apple, Page Foundry, Baker & Taylor, txtr, Library Direct, Axis 360, OverDrive, Flipkart, Oyster, ScribD. SmashWords will provide an ISBN but does not list itself as the publisher, you maintain that title yourself.

– Tablo: An interesting platform that is something of a mix between JukePop and other distribution platforms. You can publish online to Tablo immediately, though here there is no vetting process or quality control. What you post is then available to be commented on by chapter or section and it’s easy to track how many views the work is getting whether through its site or App. Additionally you can publish online to Amazon and Apple if the book is ready in its current form. Tablo uses its online editor to do most of the writing, so pasting from an external document is required. Content can be separated into chapters and you can upload a custom book cover.

– TextNovel: With a focus on hyper-short content, TextNovel is a niche market that nevertheless can allow for direct online publishing of larger works as well. Whether on its site or App you can browse through stories based on genres and length, or just look at those that are recently updated. It has a very basic system for uploading and content management, and people can comment and vote on your work to rank it in listings. There are no external publishing capabilities so far, but it could be a useful place for alternate stories of a flashfiction fashion that add in to larger works.

– WattPad: Very similar to JukePop with a seemingly larger userbase, but there is no content vetting and the large userbase can make it harder to stand out. That potential userbase can be useful for garnering more views, and the chapters can be voted on and tracked per viewcount. The App for WattPad provides editing capabilities as well which can be useful for mobile fixes and on-the-go interaction with readers. WattPad also comes with an extensive forum / community capability and hosts site-wide contests to promote users.

– Others: Many of the above sites will distribute to other places like ScribD or FlipKart. These sites offer similar services and capabilities, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. I will add more as I use and research them more. Additionally, smaller publishing companies sometimes have websites that are specific to certain subjects are geographical locations. Those can be ways to break into publishing from a more unique or localized angle.

Overview

Site ISBN Downloads Stores Libraries Comments App Royalty
Amazon KDP No Yes 1 No Yes Yes 35-70%
BookRix Yes Yes 7 No Yes No 70%
Channillo No No 0 No Yes No 80%
CreateSpace Yes Yes ~5 Yes No No 30-80%
Draft2Digital Yes Yes 6 No No No 75-80%
FictionPress No Yes 0 No Yes Yes N/A
JukePop No No 0 Yes Yes Yes N/A
Lulu Yes Yes ~6 No No No 80%
Personal Website No Yes 0 No Yes No 100%
Serial Teller No No 0 No Yes No N/A
SmashWords Yes Yes 13 Yes Yes No 85%
Tablo Yes Yes 3 No Yes Yes 40-70%
TextNovel No No 0 No Yes Yes N/A
WattPad No No 0 No Yes Yes N/A
*Note: Royalties may be after distribution or site-specific fees

Listing Services

Though not publishers themselves, there are also serial and fiction listing services available around the web. The following sites provide a sort of web-fiction directory that can include any combination of the above publishing platforms:

– EpiGuide: A forum-based listing of web-based fiction, primarily serials, where users update listings or just talk about writing.

– Goodreads Web Fiction: A Goodreads-based community of people that have web serials, web fiction, or follow stories that are updated online.

– Muse’s Success: A wiki-based listing of web fiction and serials that is privately operated and maintained by the users.

– Reddit Web Fiction: A sub-Reddit that is dedicated to the discussion and sharing of web fiction and serials.

– Tuesday Serial: A weekly listing of active web fiction and serials. Users must submit their story updates weekly to be listed when the next update is published.

– Web Fiction Guide: One of the largest listings of web fiction and serials with a core community group and a voting-based and rating-based advertisement method of showcasing serials.

Bottom Line

All of these sites don’t guarantee any kind of success or that anyone will notice the work you provide. Many are flooded daily with more and more work from thousands of writers. Benefits between sites is largely based on what the creator needs or personal preference. Each of the sites lets the author keep their rights and allows you to remove the work at a later date if needed. The main potential negative to any of these is that it may limit your ability to publish traditionally; most traditional companies want to be sole source and don’t want work that’s previously or self-published.

That said, building a following and audience can certainly be attractive. Additionally, though not all of these sites have a direct commission or funding system, modern creators can use sites like Patreon to make any platform profitable. The key consideration must always be what the creator wants from their own creative process.

-J.A.

Writer Tools: Social Media

“Networking”

Everyone needs a bit of help getting together their network of writing buddies, readers, and potential agents. It’s no easy task either, assured book popularity is only granted to existing stars, and even that doesn’t guarantee it’ll be read. The great big web has made networking a little bit easier through the use of great big sites full of users, generally called…

Social Media

To get straight to the point, here are some of my thoughts on the different sites available out there:

– Facebook: Everyone has one, so if nothing else you have a huge pool of potential contacts by promoting yourself on Facebook. What’s more, they have “Pages” that you can create and operate from so that you can have a separate business area just for your writing. My personal issue with Facebook is that it seems clunky and I can’t customize the page much. You’re limited to how you present information, and the rest just gets sorted by date and time posted or commented on.

– Google Plus: This site can be great for sharing reviews, links, and connecting with other Authors. Unlike Facebook, it doesn’t have the personal feel of family and friends, so the discourse often seems more businesslike. Additionally, many people have accounts with Google of some kind, but Google Plus never seemed to get much use itself or take off with general users so the audience is not as broad.

– Instagram: I would use Instagram if you have image-rich content related to your book, or if you enjoy taking photos that relate to your life. Readers can enjoy a feed of your daily world or any interesting viewpoints you may have. There’s a pretty large userbase and you can link from within posts which can help with driving traffic.

– Pinterest: This site can be wonderful for connecting together your own ideas and finding bits of inspiration to help with your work. Additionally, you can share those things you find interesting with followers so that they can gain insight into your process or enjoy similar preferences and mindsets. Not hugely useful for personalized and customized posts, but great for brainstorming and seeing other creative processes.

– Reddit: For large scale interaction with potential readers, Reddit is a great site that allows for comments, voting on content, and link sharing. Direct self-promotion isn’t that welcome on most of the writing parts of the site, but you can become involved in great discussions on authorship, publishing, and a vast array of topics. Becoming part of those discussions can pull together groups of friends that will help each other out along the way. However, expect a huge expenditure of time and getting vested in the culture. The interface and ways of interaction also take some getting used to.

– Tumblr: Perhaps you already have a Blog somewhere, but Tumblr is less about your personal blogging experience and is often more about sharing things you find interesting. Reblogging on this site is very similar to Pinning on Pinterest. The site can be useful to share your inspiration sources and random thoughts. It also allows you to write and post anything you want, so it can be a great place to test ideas or just to store things online somewhere. There is a bit of a Tumblr “culture” that may take some getting used to, and getting followers can be very random.

– Twitter: Short, to the point, and with a huge following around the globe. It really does work well in driving traffic, even if most of that’s only click-through. If I share a link on Twitter I generally see about 25% of the number of followers I have visit the link. Getting someone to stay or read after clicking through still depends on the content. Use hashtags almost always, though I tend to leave them off if a post is more personal. My main issue with Twitter is that it is full of bots or accounts automated to some degree. You’ll see plenty of accounts that just post the same links over and over again, but that seems to be part of the streams. Follow everyone and mute the ones you don’t intend to interact with.

Time

One thing I’ve had to remind myself is that every site takes time and effort to use. Building a community anywhere takes your energy and maintenance. I want to put my work out everywhere in case someone likes it, but I also only have so many hours in the day. Focus on the ones that are most effortless to you, and on the things that you most enjoy doing. That mindset has kept me doing pretty well, as those times when I forget I can quickly become overwhelmed.

That said, everyone takes a different journey to the top. Your surest bet is to try often and repeatedly, learning more along the way. Feel free to let me know if anything in this article is wrong, off, or needs an update of new wisdom! Thanks for reading!

-J.A.